Weeds: Empty Nesters Camp
We’ve just completed the season’s graduation party circuit. I enjoy these rites of passage. The garage is cleaned up, all the stuff hidden away somewhere. The young man or woman is on their best behavior, trying out this new adult thing. The parents flit about, looking harried, making sure there is enough fruit salad.
There is one set of parents who look particularly jittery. Those are the soon-to-be empty nesters. The last kid is leaving home!
A couple of decades of care and feeding of children is about to end. According to Wikipedia, “symptoms of empty nest syndrome can include depression, a sense of loss of purpose, feelings of rejection, or worry, stress, and anxiety over the child’s welfare.” Oh my. That almost makes you wish you had another kid.
We have several friends in this precarious emotional place in their lives. Our tail-ender graduated three years ago. Pam and I had to endure this treacherous ordeal, and we survived. We’re even married yet.
That is enough to make us experts. So, as a public service, Pam and I are going to be offering Empty Nester’s Camp this summer. You can sign up through Sleepy Eye Community Ed.
Many of you spent a short time with your new spouse before a baby moved in. Those years with just the two of you are a distant, smoky memory. At Empty Nester’s Camp, we’ll start up the process of getting to know your spouse again.
Men, you’re going to find your wife has grown in many ways. She is enlightened, self-reflective, and sophisticated in many ways. She has matured emotionally and grown spiritually. This may come as a surprise to some of you.
Women, you’ll find your husband’s pretty much the same slob you married 30 years ago. This may come as a surprise to some of you.
At this point of Empty Nesters Camp, we are going to break up the husbands and wives and talk to them separately:
Fellows, step over here. Guys, I know what you’re all thinking: “The kids are gone. We can have sex anytime we want!” We’re just saying you may need to lower your expectations just a bit.
All right, wives, over here. Ladies, we know what you’re thinking: “The kids are gone. We can get all those fix-up projects done around the house! Every room can get painted and all the furniture can get rearranged!” We’re just saying you may need to lower your expectations just a bit.
Okay, let’s get everybody back together now. There are positives about sending the last kid packing. One of them is not waiting up at night worrying about them. Those sleepless nights wondering what kind of trouble they are in are hard on parents. Now they will be off at college, spending their evenings studying, reading assigned books, and writing essays. Just keep that image in your head. Try not to think about your own first year in college, partying, avoiding arrest, and sleeping through first hour class.
Another positive for empty nesters is you can have the TV again. No more hours of Disney Channel and Animal Planet. Some things have changed since you brought the first baby home and turned on Barney. You now have 500 channels. There’s still nothing on.
You won’t have to have Oreos, Nacho Cheese-Flavored Doritos, and cookie-dough ice cream on hand to feed hordes of teenagers who descend on the house. You can stock the kitchen with fresh fruits and vegetables, raw nuts, and whole grain pasta. (Of course, each of you will sneak Doritos on your way home from work. But you don’t have to tell your spouse. Unless they ask what those orange crumbs on the car seat are. If they ask, go with plausible deniability.)
You won’t have to hide the vodka bottle. No more worrying about your minor taking out half the vodka and replacing it with water. As a matter of fact, you can just let the bottle set out on the cupboard. What the heck, throw a jigger in your orange juice. You’ve earned it.
If you’ve been parenting, you’ve probably had some combination of goldfish/canary/gerbil/hamster/guinea pig in the house. At some point, one of your kids wanted one of these dear creatures “more than anything in the world!” If you’re fortunate, the demise of these pets coincides with the departure of your last kid from home. If you are not so lucky, please resist the temptation to induce such a demise. Better to find a niece or nephew who wants a pet more than anything in the world.
As part of reclaiming your life as an empty nester, you can look forward to new hobbies. You’re still you’ve got some good years left in you. Plus, you’ve raised your kids; you aren’t quite so needed any more. You can take some risks. That is why Pam has taken up base jumping and I am doing cliff diving. These are not things we would have done when the burden of child-rearing rested on our shoulders.
We need to warn you about something here. Don’t get too comfortable with your quieter, cleaner house. This generation of kids is known as the Boomerang Generation. They might be back. You can change the locks, but they probably know how to get in one of the ground floor windows. The only fool-proof way to prevent boomeranging is to move and not tell them. We’re not recommending that but be prepared.
There will be a lot less drama in your empty nest-house. No more hearing about the cool kids, the geeks, the bullies, the jocks, the teachers who don’t like them, the former girlfriend/ boyfriend who didn’t understand them, and the current girlfriend/boyfriend who doesn’t understand them? You might find yourself missing all the drama of the teen years. If so, go rent a couple seasons of “Lost” and “Twin Peaks.”
When the last kid leaves this fall, you might find yourself actually missing the buggers. If so, we recommend the purchase of a Teenage Noise Machine. You can get one on Amazon. Turn that on for a few hours each day as you wean yourself from kids in the house. The Teenage Noise Machine will play music that is ear-wrenchingly awful. When you ask it to do something, it will make various grunting sounds. Once a day it will tell you that their friends get to stay out later, so why can’t they.
After completing Empty Nesters Camp, you will receive a certificate from Community Ed that says you are ready to face this new phase in life. Enjoy it before the grandkids show up.